THORNDIKE — The conference, regional and state wrestling championships had already come and gone. But Mark Ward’s biggest win of the season was still in front of him.

The Mount View junior was looking for first place in the New England qualifying tournament, which takes the best wrestlers from the state, regardless of class or region. Ward knew Camden Hills’s Noah Lang, whom he had lost to earlier in the year, was looming in the 145-pound bracket.

And Ward wanted to settle the score.

“Coming in, no one was really expecting me to win, except my coaches,” Ward said. “The only big name I was gunning for was Noah Lang.”

And Ward got him. He beat Lang 9-4 for the All-State title, capping off a winter that already included Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Class B South and Class B state championships. For his performance, Ward is the Morning Sentinel wrestler of the year.

Nokomis’s David Wilson, the Class A state champion at 170 pounds, was also considered.

“I’ve been trying to get Mark to step up his game,” coach Hamilton Richards said. “Be more strategic in his thinking and be a few steps ahead of his opponent. He’s really been a lot better at that this year. … He wrestled well throughout the season. He was always focused, always dialed-in.”

Richards said that focus really set in after a loss to Lang in December, during which Ward went for a move and paid the price.

“It was him trying to score at the end and it not working,” Richards said. “It really helped us dial Mark in. … He’s kind of a coach’s dream in that regard. He’s got intensity to him. It’s not like he’s going through the motions.”

Mount View’s Mark Ward is the Morning Sentinel Wrestler of the Year. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

After going into that zone, Ward never really left. He took the KVAC title at 152 pounds, then won B South and B championships at 145. All along, he said he made it a point to go on the attack each match — a tweak of his read-and-react style in previous seasons.

“I was a lot more aggressive than last year. I would go out there and I would try taking them down as quickly as possible, versus how last year I would just kind of stand there and wait for them,” he said. “Attacking in the beginning is the better strategy because you’re not potentially being taken down when you’re on the attack.”

Ward found himself prepared for whatever type of match he found himself in. If his opponent was just as set on a fast start, Ward would prove himself a tough wrestler to pin down — and therefore, a frustrating wrestler to face.

“Mark’s squirmy. He’s very hard to hang onto, and he’s hard to control,” Richards said. “I refer to Mark and his brother Zach as the weasel brothers. They’re extremely flexible, they pop out of stuff and suddenly they have you under control.”

He was also at his best in close matches. Ward had been in tight matches his whole career, so when he found himself in duels like the KVAC final — a 4-3 win over Mt. Ararat’s Ben Laurence, during which Ward lost a 3-1 lead with 42 seconds left, only to pick up the winning point 22 seconds later — he was always comfortable.

“I wrestle like that pretty much every single finals match in any tournament. After a few years, it’s just the usual,” Ward said. “You’re sitting there in the bleachers and you’re thinking about your finals match, and you’re knowing it’s a close match. You have to tell yourself that it’s fine that it’s going to be a close match, and as long as you don’t give up any points where it’s not needed, you should come out on top.”

Ward was down to 145 by states and the regional qualifier, which meant a likely showdown with Lang. Ward and Richards worked on a plan in the days leading up to the meet that would give him the upper hand.

“My coach wrote a five-page essay on how to win that match,” Ward said.

He followed it perfectly, notching a pair of pins to reach the final, then taking control over Lang and never giving it up en route to the victory.

“He always set the gameplan for me,” Ward said of Richards. “And I followed the gameplan and then I came out on top.”

“Mark was able to neutralize his takedowns,” Richards said. “That’s what totally made the difference.”

Not a bad way to finish up a year in which Ward had already claimed everything else.

“He listens, and he’ll work on the stuff you need him to work on,” Richards said. “He’s always trying to up his game.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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